Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Evaluate ACC's performance
By Editor
Mon 03 Feb. 2014, 14:00 CAT

Corruption has never been an easy evil to fight anywhere.
It also doesn't die quickly. Fighting corruption is like trying to eliminate cockroaches in a house. They don't disappear so easily. One has to be persistent to eliminate them.

To forge iron, you need a strong hammer. Similarly, to effectively fight corruption and win, you need strong institutions, laws and individuals.

Our fight against corruption doesn't seem to be going very well. There are many wonderful pronouncements against corruption - even from corrupt elements themselves - but very little progress is being recorded.

The institutions and individuals tasked with the responsibility to champion the fight against corruption on behalf of our people seem to be in a paralysis. There is very little positive that seems to be coming out of our Anti Corruption Commission.

Public expectations are very high when it comes to the work and mandate of our Anti Corruption Commission. But what has this institution delivered since its establishment in 1982 following the enactment of the Corrupt Practices Act No. 14 of 1980? And what has it achieved since the repeal of the Corrupt Practices Act and its replacement by the Anti Corruption Commission Act of 1996? Our answer to these questions is a categorical: very little, if not nothing.

The enactments that led to the establishment of our Anti Corruption Commission were good products of political will to fight corruption. But it has proved that political will alone is not enough to enable us to fight corruption effectively. Political ideas are worthless if they are not inspired by noble, selfless sentiments. Likewise, noble sentiments are worthless if they are not based on correct, fair ideas and practices.

When we look at very high-level corruption issues that have been unearthed and even prosecuted in this country, we will find that the role of the Anti Corruption Commission in all this has been very small, if not nothing.

The highest level of corruption prosecution ever reached in this country was that of Frederick Chiluba and those connected to him in his MMD government. Here, a former president, Minister of Finance, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Finance, Secretary to the Treasury, the chief of intelligence and other very high-ranking government officials were investigated and prosecuted for corruption.

The great majority of them were convicted. And civil proceedings were commenced in the London High Court against Chiluba and his accomplices and the Zambian government won. But again, corruption in the Rupiah Banda government denied the Zambian people recovery of what Chiluba and his friends had stolen. In all this, the role of the Anti Corruption Commission was very minimal. These were not matters initiated and investigated by the Anti Corruption Commission. Of course, a few officials were recruited from the Anti Corruption Commission to join the investigations and prosecution. But this was not a matter that was led by the Anti Corruption Commission.

And even today, the prosecution of Rupiah and those around him are not matters which the Anti Corruption Commission can in all honesty claim to be leading. Their participation in these issues is merely symbolic.
But this is an institution that is mandated by law to investigate and prosecute corruption in our Republic. Taxpayers' money is every day being spent on the Anti Corruption Commission to do its job. But can it be said that the Zambian taxpayer is getting a fair return from the Anti Corruption Commission? Again, the answer is a categorical no.

As things stand today, the Anti Corruption Commission is simply a ceremonial institution to show people that we are committed to fighting corruption and we have set up an institution for that purpose. In its current form and structure, the Anti Corruption Commission is a dead, useless but costly institution.

In saying this, we are not in any way trying to discredit, belittle and undermine those who work for this institution. We are merely trying to take a critical and self-critical approach to life in the firm belief that no institution, whatsoever, should expect to be free from the scrutiny of those who give it their loyalty and support, not to mention those who don't. There is no doubt, of course, that criticism is good for people and institutions that are part of public life. And this sort of questioning can also act, and it should do so, as an effective engine for change, for improvement.

We need to critically examine the reasons for the Anti Corruption Commission's poor performance. We need to find out if it is the legal framework that is inhibiting it from efficiently and effectively delivering on its mandate. If this is so, let the necessary legal amendments be made. We also need to find out if it is the organisational framework that is making the work of the Anti Corruption Commission difficult. If this is the case, let's effect the necessary organisational changes to make this very necessary public institution efficient and effective. If it is the individuals who are simply not up to the tasks they have been employed to carry out, let the necessary changes be made in personnel so as to enable the institution to operate efficiently and effectively.

Leaving things the way they are is very dangerous because it may lead to many false interpretations and wrong assumptions.

Some of the inefficiencies and deficiencies of the Anti Corruption Commission lead to the assumption of political interference in its work. This is an institution that has been very poor in investigating and prosecuting matters involving senior government officials, political appointees. Such people are only investigated and prosecuted for corruption when they fall out with the sitting government or are no longer influential in it. Even where there is meaningful public suspicion of corruption of senior government officials, the Anti Corruption Commission never moves in.

However, this approach has the dangerous consequence of making the sitting president appear to be protecting members of his or her government when this may not be so.

Public institutions need to account for the public money invested in them. The Anti Corruption Commission is not exempt from this accountability. And there is need for the relevant parliamentary committee to critically evaluate the work of the Anti Corruption Commission and recommend the necessary amends. This is so because as things stand today, the Anti Corruption Commission cannot easily justify public investment in it. The results of their work are not tying in with what the public is putting in it. More is expected, and justifiably so, from this institution.

As things stand today, the Anti Corruption Commission is operating more or less like an ineffective anti corruption complaints commission that is not able to move anything by itself or at its own instigation.

This inefficiency and ineffectiveness of the Anti Corruption Commission is putting too much pressure on the political authorities and other institutions of the state that are closely connected to its work. It is putting unnecessary pressure on the presidency to match its anti-corruption pronouncements with deeds or action. It is also putting unnecessary pressure on the National Prosecution Authority, which, in the final analysis, has to take responsibility for its work.

Things cannot be allowed to continue this way if legitimate public expectations on the fight against corruption have to be met. All the necessary changes, whatever it takes, must be made.

More can be said and needs to be said. What has been stated in this comment is merely an introduction to the detailed debate and evaluation of the performance of our Anti Corruption Commission. More public discourse is needed, and must take place, on this issue.

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